As an athlete I sometimes feel like I have felt and survived every human emotion there is. My life as an athlete has shown me success and failure. I have been pushed and tested to my limits. In all the battles I have fought on the court and off it I have learnt lessons that have shaped my life not only as an athlete but as a thinking individual. I was a Psychology student in college and I have always been curious of how we as humans react to the emotions we feel. What do we do when we succeed and what do we do when we fail? The best stories of human strength and character are the ones that have come from failure and pain. They have always taught me more than the happier stories. The underdog is always my hero and the one that I always root for. The story that I am going to tell you today is a very personal account of a man I met in a hospital. He inspired me in one of the toughest and lowest period of my life. He pushed me to never give up on my goals and to keep fighting. I hope he inspires you too.
I was 17 years old then. I was the country’s best girls singles player. I was winning every tournament I played nationally and was selected to represent India in the Junior World Championships. I was focussed and excited. I was in the best form of my life and I knew I could get a great result in this prestigious tournament. Destiny though had its own plan. In one of the training sessions a week before the tournament I twisted my knee. The twist was very bad. I couldn’t walk on that leg for the next month. I was rushed to the hospital and the doctor told me that my meniscus and my anterior cruciate ligament was completely torn. This meant I needed a surgery and I would be out of the competitive circuit for the next whole year. This news was a big blow. A year without Badminton was an impossible thought for me to fathom.
I was operated on my leg. I still remember the way I felt the next day after my surgery. I was lying down on that hospital bed trying to put up a brave face while inside I just felt so broken. My mind was a box of unanswered questions. Will I walk again? Will I ever play again? Is this end of my badminton career? Will I ever be number one again? At that time I had no answers for all these questions. The next few days I was in constant pain. I gave up on putting up a brave front. I sulked, cried and constantly complained about my fate. I gave a hard time to my parents and doctors. My 17 year old mind felt incapable of handling the situation more mentally than physically. I felt like I was left alone at the bottom of the ocean.
After a week my rehab programme began. I was brought in the rehab room on a wheelchair. My doctor told me that before I started my rehab he wanted to introduce me to someone. His name was Ravi Mohanty. He looked a little older than me but still pretty young. Ravi had lost his leg in an accident a month back. The accident wasn’t his fault. A young car driver jumped the light and hit him on a signal. Ravi was on his bike. The first few days of my rehab program I was too consumed with self-pity and anger to register Ravi or his story. I hardly ever spoke to him. I did observe him though. I never saw Ravi unhappy. He always smiled and laughed. He would crack jokes on his condition. He would flirt with the nurses. The room just always seemed to have lit up once he entered it. I hardly smiled, or talked during my rehab sessions. Ravi’s attitude towards his situation always surprised me. I wanted to know how could he be so happy when he had lost a leg. What was keeping him sane? One afternoon I finally let go of my inhibitions and spoke to him.
I approached his bed and asked him if I could talk to him. He immediately moved a little and patted on the bed, asking me to sit down. “Finally. I have the great privilege of sharing space with an international athlete.” I was a little surprised that he knew things about me. After the initial awkwardness I felt a lot easier to talk to him. “ Ravi, you have just lost a bloody leg. You are just 25. Why are you so happy? Aren’t you worried about your future? You will never be able to walk or run normally again? What is your secret?” Ravi looked at me and smiled. “All I am really worried about is that will I ever get a girl-friend. It is difficult to get one with two legs now-a-days.” I burst out laughing and Ravi joined. “ Oh Aditi! Life is too short. Yes what happened is a bad thing. I didn’t do anything to deserve this. But most of the time things are out of your control. Life is unfair, accept it. I have two options right now. To sulk and cry or to accept things and still be the best I can be. A lost leg doesn’t really define me. What will define me is what I am going to do from here after? I choose not to fail. We live in the 21st century. I have already registered myself to get an artificial leg. I am sure I will not only walk soon but I will run soon and may be then we can have a race. I might just beat you. The key thing Aditi is to win the battle within you. That is the toughest battle you will ever encounter. If you decide you are going to be India’s number one even after all this, then nobody can stop you. You need to believe in yourself. The world will soon follow.”
That day I realised how poorly I was dealing with this. Here was Ravi who had lost his leg telling me he will run soon. I had just injured my knee. If Ravi could remain so positive with everything he was going through, I had no excuse to not do the best I can do. Talking to Ravi made a huge impact on me. From the next day onwards I was much more focussed and pumped up about my rehab. I knew a good intensive rehab was my only way of getting out of this situation. The next six months of my life were the best days of my life. I didn’t really have money to hire a professional trainer. My only way to get myself a good rehab was research. I researched like a student. I wrote exercises down, different diets, supplements, etc. I set myself short term goals and achieved them. Every time I felt like giving up I thought about Ravi and his smiling face. It just always helped me.
A year after the surgery I entered my first national tournament in my hometown and I lost in the finals. Even though I had lost I won a lot of respect from my family, coaches and opponents. I was respected for my belief, effort and my will to not give up. The respect that I got from my loved ones was secondary to the respect I felt for myself. I knew this time I had won the battle within and irrespective of the result of my finals I had won. The best years of my badminton career came after this surgery. I achieved the world ranking of 27 in the Womens singles, a silver medal in the Bittburger Grand Prix and the Commonwealth Games (mixed team event) and also became the national champion in the juniors and the seniors.
It is a shame that I don’t know where Ravi is today. I owe him my most important lesson. The most extraordinary things in life are taught by the most ordinary people. If we just keep our eyes and heart open, we can be left so inspired. I will always be eternally grateful to Ravi for showing me how to find the extra in the ordinary.